To fully comprehend how the sport of lacrosse is played, it is necessary to first analyze the rudimentary aspects that may seem obvious to experienced players, but are not explicitly clear to newcomers. One of the first things you should understand is whether or not the ball can contact the ground.
The ball is allowed to touch the ground in lacrosse in all game situations, including stripping the ball carrier of possession, knocking down passes, shooting wild shots, throwing bounce passes, and facing off.
There are a variety of game circumstances where the ball touches the ground. To help you gain a better understanding of why the ball touches the ground during these specific scenarios, we will scrutinize each situation in depth.
Is the Ball Allowed to Touch the Ground in All Circumstances?
As aforementioned, the ball can touch the ground at any point during the game. When the ball touches the ground in lacrosse, it is referred to as a ground ball.
Put simply, a ground ball is a loose ball that is not possessed by either team. The ball can be stationary on the ground, bouncing in all directions, or rolling around on the field. Scooping up ground balls is the primary means by which lacrosse teams acquire possession from the other team.
If you would like to learn more about ground balls specifically, check out my article What Does Ground Ball Mean in Lacrosse?
There are several different situations that result in the ball touching the ground in lacrosse. We will take a look at these situations on a case by case basis next.
Stripping the Ball Carrier of Possession
The overarching goals of the defense is to prevent scoring opportunities and cause turnovers. In order to generate turnovers by way of on ball defense, the defender must strip the ball carrier of possession with stick checks and body checks.
Rarely, if ever, do defenders gather possession of the ball directly from their opponent’s lacrosse stick. Instead, defenders disrupt their opponent’s stick handling ability, which forces them to drop the ball on the ground. From there, defenders fight to gain possession of the loose ball.
Thus, on ball defenders rely heavily on the legality of the ball lying on the ground in order to successfully generate turnovers.
Knocking Down Passes
Defenders generate turnovers off ball by knocking down passes. Occasionally, defenders are able to intercept the pass midair. The majority of the time, however, they simply disrupt the pass by batting the ball down to the ground. This is a much more convenient maneuver than attempting to snatch a fast moving pass straight from the air.
Again, this is just another instance where the defense depends on the the ball contacting the ground to get the ball back over to their offense.
Shooting Wild Shots
Lacrosse players must shoot the ball as hard as they can to even have a chance of sneaking the ball past the goalkeeper. For this reason, there are bound to be some wild shots.
There are a lot of potential outcomes when a lacrosse player shoots the ball. The ball can end up in the back of the net, out of bounds, or in the goalie’s stick. People overlook the fact the ball could also end up on the ground as a loose ball. In this scenario, a ferocious ground ball scrum ensues, with players scrambling over top each other to get possession.
This outcome usually results from the ball ricocheting off of a pipe or rebounding off of the goalkeeper. These ground balls can have serious implications on the game depending on who gathers possession because the ball is usually loose in close proximity to the goal.
If an offensive player comes up with the ball, there is a high likelihood that they end up getting off a quick high percentage shot. The only real way that the defense could prevent this situation is if they squash the threat before it even becomes a problem by picking the ball up themselves.
The Goalie Clamp
The crease is the circular area around the goal that offensive players are not allowed to cross. It is the area where the goalkeeper roams around to prevent scoring opportunities.
There are times when the ball is loose on the crease and the goalkeeper clamps their stick on top of the ball. In this situation, offensive players cannot check the goalie’s stick while it is clamped on top of the ball in the crease.
This is in stark contrast to the previous situations discussed earlier. A ground ball resulting from a ball strip, knocked down pass, or wild shot is essentially a free for all battle for possession. When the goalie clamps their stick on the ball, offensive players cannot fight for possession any longer. The goalkeeper has established possession of the ball with their clamping motion.
This is important to note so that you don’t accidentally draw a penalty simply because you didn’t know the rules surrounding the different circumstances of ground balls.
Bounce Pass & Roll Pass
There are instances in lacrosse where offensive players elect to throw a bounce pass or roll pass as opposed to a standard aerial pass.
Bounce passes and roll passes are seen at the advanced level more than anything else. However, this is not to say that it is illegal for a youth player to do so. They abstain from these sorts of players because they lack the skills and circumstantial recognition to execute these advanced passes.
If you want to see how experienced lacrosse players take advantage of the legality of the ball touching the ground with their passing, check out the video below of Zed Williams delivering a perfectly executed bounce pass to his teammate for a goal!
The Face Off
The face off is another common instance where the ball legally touches the ground in lacrosse. In this scenario, the referee places the ball on the ground between two players at center field. They position their sticks close to the ball and ready themselves. As soon as the referee blows the whistle, they try to outmaneuver their opponent to gain possession of the ball on the ground.
The ball being placed on the ground is essential to the face off because it affords both teams an even chance of acquiring possession. This way, scale is not tipped in favor of one team or another. To learn more about the exact details behind the lacrosse face off, you should check out my article The Lacrosse Face-Off: Everything That You Need to Know.
Why the Ball Can Touch the Ground During Standard Gameplay
The rules permit the ball to touch the ground during lacrosse games because it keeps the flow of the game moving smoothly. If the ball was not allowed to ever contact the ground, there would be stoppages in play every minute. This would get real tedious, real quick.
The sport of lacrosse prides itself on the rapid pace of play. By allowing the ball to touch the ground, this up beat tempo remains intact. Players can simply scoop up the ball from the ground and be on their way.
In addition, legalizing ball contact with the ground adds another layer of unpredictability to the game. Every time the ball touches the ground, it is an opportunity for lacrosse teams to earn themselves an extra possession. Possession time is absolutely crucial to winning lacrosse games. After all, your opponent cannot score if they do not have the ball.
This unpredictability adds some excitement to the game of lacrosse. If lacrosse teams were simply just awarded with possession every time the ball hit the ground, it wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling. Players and fans like the prospect of uncertainty. It keeps them thoroughly engaged in the game.
In summary, the rationale for the legalization of ball contact with the ground is to maintain an up tempo style of play and to keep the game exciting with the fluctuation of possession.
Why Teams Should Want to Keep the Ball Off the Ground
Now that you have all this information in mind, you are likely asking yourself, “Then why is the ball rarely ever on the ground during lacrosse games?”
The main reason that lacrosse teams keep the ball off the ground is because they cannot control the ball when it is loose on the field surface. If a lacrosse team wants to have a real opportunity to score, they have to gather up the ball into their lacrosse pocket to perform basic lacrosse movements, such as cradling, passing, and shooting. These fundamental maneuvers are the foundation of offensive strategy to get the ball in the back of the net.
They leave the ball in an extremely vulnerable position for the other team to acquire possession. When a player has the ball in their lacrosse pocket, they have a much better chance of keeping possession away from the other team by running away from defensive pressure and passing the ball out of sticky situations.
With ground balls, there are no such options. Both teams have an equal chance of securing ball possession. As previously discussed, the less time that a lacrosse team has the ball, the less scoring opportunities they will have, and the less chance that they will have at winning the game.
Put simply, lacrosse teams keep the ball off of the ground as much as possible so that they can maximize their possession time and keep the ball away from the other team.
So although it is legal for the ball to touch the ground during live game play, this doesn’t mean you should be dropping the ball to the ground on the purpose. It is far more beneficial for you and your team to retain possession of the ball for as long as possible to get the most number of shots on goal.
If there ever is a time where the ball is on the ground, fight tooth and nail to scoop up that loose ball. Earning your team an extra possession can make a serious difference in the outcome of the game, even though this aspect of the sport is commonly overlooked.